It’s been a while since I posted an article on this blog. Before I get kicked out of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, I thought I’d give you an article about this-and-that about the A’s during the last couple of months, in no particular order.
Where I’ve Been: First, let me explain my absence from these pages. I needed to get my 120,000 word novel into final form with the help of my free-lance editor, Rick Hurd. Once that was done (Is it ever done?), I began last week the unenviable task of trying to find an agent to represent my novel Contract Year: A Story about Love and Baseball. I had to do a lot of research trying to find agents who like baseball, which is not easy to do. That’s not something they usually share in their agent profiles. So far, I have queried 3 agents and I have identified another who likes sports. So that’s why I have not posted an article in almost 2 months.
So on to News of the A’s:
A’s New Radio Station: During the off season, the A’s attempted to buy their flagship radio station KTRB, which had filed bankruptcy. A deal couldn’t be accomplished, so March 31st the A’s announced that they have a new flagship station, KBWF FM 95.7 “The Wolf,” a country and western station with perhaps the strongest FM signal in the Bay Area. Given the problems with reception in various places in the East Bay and elsewhere that we fans experienced in the last few years, this is very good news.
Apparently AM radio popularity is waning and FM is gaining in popularity rapidly, and is expected to take over the sports broadcasting market in the near future. The A’s are currently the only MLB team whose sole flagship station is in FM format, and the broadcast quality is vastly superior to AM. Several other teams have both AM and FM stations carrying the same braodcast.
On April 15th, only 2 weeks later, KBWF rebranded itself as Sports Radio 95.7, changing it’s format to full-time sports talk radio. This allows the A’s pregame show to expand to a full hour and Chris Townsend’s post-game call-in show to last at least an hour and sometimes longer. In short, this is a really good situation for the A’s and their fans and will continue through the 2014 season under the current contract. FYI, KBWF is also the flagship radio station for the San Jose Sharks.
A’s Organizational Changes:
Sacramento River Cats:The A’s extended their contract with the Sacramento River Cats, the A’s Triple-A affiliate since 2000, through the 2014 season.
In 2010, the Rivercats won their 9th Pacific Coast League Division title in 11 years, and the team has won 4 PCL Championships since they joined the A’s organization. They also led Minor League Baseball in attendance during 9 of the last 11 years.
A’s Shuffle Minor League Affiliates: The Burlington Bees of the Midwest League is now the Single-A affiliate of the A’s in the Midwest League, replacing the Kane County Cougars.
The Bees were the Single-A affiliate of the Kansas City A’s from 1963-1967 and continued as the A’s Single-A affiliate for 6 more years after the A’s moved to Oakland. FYI, this season so far, the Bees are 8-2, leading the Western Division with the league’s best W-L record. Kane county is in last place.
The Vermont Lake Monsters of the New York-Penn League has replaced Vancouver Canadiens of the Short Season Northwest League, as the A’s short season Single-A affiliate. Of the new teams, A’s GM Billy Beane said, “Both areas are steeped in rich baseball history and offer very supportive communities. It should be an exciting and mutually beneficial partnership for all parties involved.”
A’s Coaching Changes: Curt Young, who was the A’s pitching coach for the last 7 years, is now the pitching coach for the Red Sox. We are all sad to see him go but wish him the best of luck.
Ron Romanick, at left, the A’s bullpen coach for the last 3 seasons, was promoted to fill Curt Young’s shoes with the A’s. Before becoming the bullpen coach, Romanick spent 9 years as the A’s minor league roving pitching instructor, and was instrumental in developing pitchers Trevor Cahill and Dallas Braden and others. The bullpen duties are now handled by Rick Rodriguez, who has been the pitching coach for the Sacramento River Cats for most of the last 10 years.
Also, Gerald Perry is back as A’s hitting coach, replacing Jim Skaalen, who held the position during the last two seasons. This is Perry’s second stint as A’s hitting coach (2006). In addition, Joel Skinner, who came over from the Cleveland Indians, has replaced Tye Waller as A’s bench coach, with Waller sliding over to first base coaching duties.
Trainers and Other Medical Changes: Steve Sayles is no longer the A’s head trainer. Nick Paparesta, who was the assistant trainer for the Tampa Bay Rays for the past three seasons, has assumed the reins. Walt Horn remains an assistant trainer along with Brian Schulman, who was a trainer at Cal Berkeley for the last 7 years.
In October of 2010, the A’s parted company with the Webster Orthopedic Group, shortly after Dallas Braden filed a medical malpractice suit against the group,
for the permanent nerve damage when they nicked a nerve during a cyst removal from his foot. He has no feeling in part of his foot, which affects his pitching delivery, his perfect game notwithstanding.
Ticket Sales up: A’s season ticket sales are up 50% this year. It validates the moves that Billy Beane made this offseason. (See previous post on this blog here.) The presence of Hideki Matsui probably accounts for much of the rise. Also, inspite of playing in a bad ballpark, threats of moving the team elsewhere, and some anti-fan moves (like the tarps and cancelling the annual FanFest), people still like the A’s a lot and remain loyal.
Facebook Study: The social media giant conducted a study of members who “like” their teams.
Phillies fans were found to be “most loyal”, St. Louis Cardinals are most beloved by women, but the Oakland A’s fans are the “most social,” meaning they have the most friends on Facebook. A’s fans are the only team-based community that averages over 500 “friends” per member. A’s fans are also the “most scattered around the country”, are “among the youngest”, “most likely to be single”, and “most male-centric in the major leagues.” You can read the report here.
Now to Leave Lou With Something Musical. One of my favorite baseball songs is entitled, “Somewhere between Old and New York” by Dave Grusin, Randy Goodrum and Dave Loggins, and sung by Phoebe Snow. Enjoy it here. Listen carefully to the lyrics. They are pure poetry.
Last weekend I attended a SABR (Society of American Baseball Research) event at the Borders Bookstore across from AT+T Park in San Francisco. It was Tim Lincecum Bobblehead Night at the stadium and at 4:15 the line to get the bobblehead was strung out almost back to downtown SF. But my friend Sandy and I were not there to snag a replica of “The Freak,” but to hear three authors talk about their recently-published baseball books. Let me introduce them to you.
Jeff Gillenkirk has written a baseball novel, entitled Home, Away. Jason Thibideaux is a pitcher who has a bright future in professional baseball. After a divorce which brings out the worst in both parties, he fails to secure joint custody of his two-year-old son whom he raised full time for the previous year while his wife finished law school. Jason is devastated at being separated from his son for long periods of time as he embarks on his baseball career.
Over the next few years, through many ups and downs in his career and in his relationship with his son, Jason arrives at the crossroads and must make a gut-wrenching choice between family and career.
“Home, Away has it all — realistic family drama, the action of professional sports, witty dialogue … I was captivated from beginning to end. Gillenkirk’s book is a home run.” –Holly Goldberg Sloan, screenwriter, “Angels in the Outfield.”
I am about halfway through Home, Away, and am enjoying it thoroughly.
Mark Armour is the author of Joe Cronin: A Life in Baseball. Joe Cronin was a player for 20 years for the Washington Senators and the Boston Red Sox, and was a 7-time allstar. He became a player-manager at the age of 26, a General Manager at age 40, President of the American League in 1950, and in the Mid-60’s was kicked upstairs to the Chairman of the League, a largely ceremonial position. He had almost 45 years at the level of manager or above, and spent over a half-century in baseball.
“For so many decades, Joe Cronin has defied the ambitions of biographers…until now, as Mark Armour finally brings us a revealing portrait of this towering figure in the game’s history,” says Rob Neyer of ESPN. “His treatment is both thorough and (equally important) very readable,” according to Bill Nowlin, author of more than 20 books on the Red Sox.
Steve L. Steinberg, a baseball historian, is the co-author (with Lyle Spats) of the book “1921: The Yankees, The Giants and the Fight for Baseball Supremacy in New York.” 1921 was the year that the Yankees won their first pennant. John McGraw of the Giants had always been the personification of New York baseball. As owner, general manager, and field manager (all at the same time), he called every pitch and managed in the old style of baseball.
By and large, the Yankees were a mediocre team before 1921. But that year, the Bronx Bombers, led by Babe Ruth, emerged as the new face of baseball. The clash between these two baseball styles and franchises is the focus of this remarkable book.
“1921 is an incredibly comprehensive look at a pivotal baseball season–for the sport, for New York, for an America finally distancing itself from war. … Iluminating and entertaining” — Frank Deford, senior contributing writer for Sports Illustrated and author.
I hope you will check these books out. They are all available on Amazon.com. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Every team that played in the postseason this year, had former A’s players or coaches on their rosters. Most of them will get some kind of share of the postseason bonuses.
World Series:The Yankees have 3 active players on their postseason roster who used to play for the A’s: Johnny Damon (2001), Nick Swisher (2004-07) and Chad Gaudin (2006-08). The Phillies have two active former A’s, Joe Blanton (2004-08) and Matt Stairs (1996-99). The Phils’ Bench Coach, Davey Lopes played for the A’s in 1982-84. Therefore, there are 6 possible World Series Shares that will go to former A’s. The will also receive winning shares of the League Championship Series (LCS) and their Division Series (LDS). I will explain all this later.
League Championship Series (“The Pennant”): On the 2 teams who lost their LCS, the Angel’s first base coach, Alfredo Griffin, played for the A’s in 1985-87. Andre Ethier of the Dodgers spent 2003-05 in the A’s farm system and was a top A’s prospect before he was part of the trade to the Dodgers for Milton Bradley. Bob Schaefer, the Dodger’s Bench Coach, held the same position with the 2007 A’s and their Pitching Coach, Rick Honeycutt, pitched for the Green and Gold in 1987-93 and 1995. So 4 former A’s should get LCS losing and LDS winning shares this year.
On the other 4 teams who lost in the LDS, there were quite a few guys who were formerly affiliated with the A’s:
In the National League, Matt Holiday of the St. Louis Cardinals played for the A’s during the first half of 2009. The Cards’ Coaching staff is also full of ex-A’s. Tony LaRussa, the Cards manager, managed the A’s from 1986-95, and his pitching coach, Dave Duncan was the A’s Pitching Coach from 1985-95 and played for the KC/Oakland A’s from 1964-72. Dave McKay, The Cards’ First Base Coach, was the A’s Bullpen and Bench Coach from 1984-89, and the A’s1st Base Coach from 1989-95. And Jason Giambi (1995-2001, 2009), Carlos Gonzalez (2008), Huston Street (2005-08), and Matt Murton (pt. of 2008) are all on the active roster of the Rockies. They should all get losing LDS shares.
In the American League, Manager Terry Francona (2003 A’s Bench Coach) and Dave Magadan (1997-98 player) of the Boston Red Sox, and Orlando Cabrera (2009) and Ron Mahay (1999-2000) of the Minnesota Twins should all get losing LDS shares.
Postseason Bonuses: There are three factors that determine what a player who plays in the post season will receive as bonuses: 1) The size of the bonus pool for each level of post season play, 2) how far the player’s team gets in the postseason, and the share of the team’s bonus pool that the player will receive
The Bonus Pool: There is a separate pool for each level of the postseason. Each bonus pool receives 60% of the gate receipts for that series. There is a complicated formula to determine the value of the gate that takes into account the size of the venues, the amount of high-priced premium seating in the venues, the number of games played in the series and whether or not the games sell out. The actual ticket prices are set by MLB, not the home teams as they are during the season.
Winners vs. Losers: The winning team’s share of the World Series gate receipts is 36% and the loser’s share is 24%. The LCS losing teams each get 12% and the LDS losers get 3% each, and the 4 2nd-place teams that do not win the wild-card receive 1%.
A Player’s Share of the Team’s Pool: Here’s where things can get sticky. the 25 roster players vote right after the trade deadline (July 31st) at a meeting chaired by their union representative. At this meeting the 25 players decide whether players who have not been with the club for the whole season get a full share,a partial share or no share at all. Non-players, such as trainers, may be granted full or partial shares. The pool of money is divided by the number of shares granted at the meeting. There is no llimit on the number of shares, but a player will receive less money if there are more shares granted.
In 2006, members of the St. Louis Cardinals received over $362,000 each for winning the World Series. For players who have not become elligle for arbitration (less than 3 years experience in the Majors), their share may be more than their regular season salary. For the players with valuable contracts, their share may be less than 5%.
So that’s how postseason bonuses are calculated. And in all 18 former A’s may be ellible to receive postseason money, depending upon what their respective teams voted in their August meeting.
It all may be decided tonight if the Yanikees win, or maybe the Phillies will grit their way to another win to say alive. It should be a good game.
With the World Series approaching this week, and at the suggestion of my friend, Eric Edward, I thought I’d take a look at whether we can predict which teams make it to the World Series, and why others do not. A huge topic, I know, but I have found some statistics that might shed some light on the subject.
We now know that the New York Yankees
will play the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series
, which will begin Wednesday night in New York. The Phillies are looking to 2-peat, having won the Series last year. The Yankees, who have won more World Series than any other franchise (26), are really pumped, if last night’s game against the Angels is any indication. It should be a very good series.
So were these two teams the likely candidates to play in the World Series? Let’s look at some numbers in various categories: salaries, market size, attendance, team value, and prior World Series appearances, to see if we could have predicted this year’s Series contenders.
Salaries/Payroll: It is no surprise that the Yankees have the highest team payroll in the Majors at $201,449,289 for 2009, as of opening day. The teams ranked 2 through 10 have payrolls between $135,773,988 (Mets) down to $98,904,167 (Mariners). Of the top 10, only 5 made it into the post season at all, and 4 of the 5 made it to the Championship Series. If only half of the top ten teams in payroll get into the post season, the correlation between Payroll and getting into the world series is pretty significant, but not over whelming, especially since the 13th, 16th and 24th teams in this category also made it. So maybe it’s not only about paying players more money.
Market Size: 4 of the top 5 teams in market size–Yanks(1), Dodgers (3), Angels (4) and Phillies (5) made it to the 2009 postseason and the same 4 won their respective divisions. The Mets (#2) didn’t make it to the postseason, but their #2 position is due largely to the fact that they are in a very densely populated metropolitan area and they moved into a very nice new stadium this season. The other 4 teams in the playoffs were #6 (Red Sox-Wild Card), #21 (Twins), #23 (Cards) and #24 (Rockies-Wild Card). Thus it appears that market size helps your chances because there is a larger pool of fans to draw from, but it is not determinative in making it to the postseason.
Attendance: 6 of the 8 top teams in attendance made it to the playoffs in 2009, as well as nos. 11 and 14, all in the top 50% of teams. The top 5 teams in this category won their respective divisions. So it looks like Attendance seems to track closely with appearance in the postseason. But what does this mean? Are the teams doing well because they have more people coming to the games, or do more people come because the team is doing well? My guess is it is the latter, which means that attendance alone is a good indicator but not a deciding factor.
Team Value: By far the most valuable MLB franchise is the New York Yankees ($1.5 billion). The Mets ($912M, 2nd), the Red Sox ($833M, 3rd), the Dodgers ($722M, 4th), and the Cubs ($700M, 5th) make up the rest of the top 5. 23 of the other teams are worth between $509 million (Angels, ranked 6th) down to $314 million (Royals, ranked 28th). The Pirates ($288M, 29th) and the Marlins ($277M, 30th) and are “in the bottom two,” a la Dancing With The Stars.
But let’s look at the most valuable teams and how they have fared in the World Series. #1 and #7 will compete in the Fall Classic; both are division and, obviously, the pennant winners. The 2 other teams that played in the Championship Series are the Dodgers (# 4) and the Angels (#6). When we go back to the Division Series, the results are mixed. The Red Sox (3rd) and the Cardinals (8th) are in the top 10, but the Rockies (20th) and Twins (22nd) are way back in the value pack, and show that much less valuable teams can at least make it to the Division Series, though not very likely. Since 7 of the top 10 in this category made it to the postseason, the team value category seems to have the highest correlation with getting beyond the end of the season.
World Series Experience: The Yankees by far have played in most World Series (39). Of the rest of the top 10 — Dodgers (18), Cardinals and Giants (17 each), Athletics (14), Red Sox (11), Tigers and Cubs (10 each), and the Reds and Braves (9 each)–only the Yankees, Dodgers, Cardinals and Red Sox made it to the post season in 2009. So World Series experience certainly helps, but it didn’t help the Yankees in 2001-2007 when they got eliminated in the ALDS 5 times, and in the ALCS once and lost the World series twice. The Bronx Bombers haven’t made an appearance in the Series since 2003 and haven’t won it since 2000. They also didn’t play in the post season at all in 2008, the first time in 14 years. Because a lot of ancient baseball history skews these results, I didn’t include World Series experience in my statistical analysis.
So what do we make of all this? I determined the rank of each team in each category and then averaged the 4 ranks for each team. The top teams, from 1 to 10, are, : Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, Red Sox, Angels, Phillies, Giants, Astros, Tigers, and Cards. 6 of them made it to the post season, and #1 and #5 are playing in the World Series. The 1st 6 teams are bunched together in averaged ranks; teams 7-10 (including the Cards) are ranked considerably lower. So I guess this ranking system is pretty good in predicting who will make it to the post season, but beyond that it’s anybody’s guess and involves a lot of luck.
The aberrations in the top 10 are interesting: the Mets, Giants, Astro’s and Tigers. None of them made it to the post season but all have circumstances leading to unusually high ranks: a new stadium, attendance and large market size (Mets), a reasonably new stadium, attendance and long history (Giants), high payroll and market size (Tigers), and then there’s the Houston Astros (T#5 in Payroll, #7 in Market Size, and #12 in attendance account for their high rank), go figure.
That’s a lot to digest, but if you are a numbers geek like me and want to see my Excel spreadsheet, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll email it to you. It has some very interesting and surprising statistics.
So sit back and enjoy the World Series. If my ranking system is correct, the Yankees should win it easily. But this is the Fall Classic and anything can happen. As is often said, the team that wants it most will find a way to win it. We should have a great series to watch.
Payroll Data: www.cbssports.com/mlb/salaries
Market Size Data: http://www.baseball-almanac.com/articles/baseball_markets.shtml N.B. For New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Baltimore/Washington and the SF Bay Area, all metropolitan areas with 2 teams, the Census data was allocated according to attendance info.
Attendance Data: www.baseball-reference.com
World Series Experience: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Series
Induction Day: As we arrived at the Clark Sports Center
about a mile south of Cooperstown proper, two things struck us: it was raining lightly and there was a tent set up over the stage where the induction was obviously going to take place. We found where the tour company had set up our chairs and, after changing seats a couple of times to get a better view of the unlighted stage, we settled in to wait the hour before the festivities were set to begin. That’s me on the right in the picture below.
To set the scene, if I were standing on the stage at the podium, I would be looking out at gently rolling fields of grass ending perhaps a quarter of a mile away in thick forest. In front of the stage a rickety dark green picket fence cordoned off an area, which we rightly assumed were for the families of those who would be on stage and other former ballplayers and dignitaries and their retinue. You can see part of the green fence in the picture above. We found out later that we could have paid $200 extra to sit in the VIP area. I would gladly have paid it to sit closer, had we been given the option. But I digress.
Back to me pretending to stand on the stage looking out: to my right was a large TV screen which wasn’t anywhere near big enough to enable those who were near the aforementioned forest to see, but it would help those of us who were in the middle of the pack.
To the left along the road were vendors selling food and souvenirs, as well as a long row of portapotties lined up like fat blue soldiers. Shuttle busses arrived every few minutes behind the portapotties delivering more people and paraphernalia.
New arrivals came out to the field and set up their chairs higgledy piggledy on either side and behind the fenced in area. There were aisles whitewashed into the grass, but they were observed more in their breach than anything else. Over the next hour, those assembled were alternately getting wet when the heavens drizzled and hot when the sun came out, steaming them in their rain gear. The whole thing looked like a cross between an active bee hive and a homeless encampment. See slide show at: http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/photogallery/year_2009/month_07/day_26/cf6074528.html.
Induction Ceremony begins Amid Sprinkles: Finally, the festivities began and we were welcomed by the President of the Hall of Fame, Jeff Idelson, who proceeded to introduce the 51 Hall of Famers (of the 65 still living) seated on chairs on the stage.
Those in attendance included such greats as: Dennis Eckersley, Bob Feller, Sandy Koufax, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Henry Aaron, Brooks Robinson, Lou Brock, Johnny Bench, Rollie Fingers, Reggie Jackson, Mike Schmidt, Senator Jim Bunning, Orlando Cepeda Carl Yastrzemski and Ozzie Smith, who rose as their names were called to standing ovations.
A slight woman with shoulder-length salt-and-pepper curly hair was introduced as Judy Gordon, the daughter of the Veterans’ Committee’s 2009 inductee, the late Joe Gordon who played second base for the Yankees and Cleveland from 1938-1950.
Judy gave a heartfelt speech about her father and what baseball meant to him and his family, declaring with tears flowing that her father refused to have any kind of funeral when he died in 1978, but “We consider Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame as his final resting place, a place he will be honored forever.” By now the sun had come out so it wasn’t rain that adorned the cheeks of many people in the audience.
Power-hitting leftfielder Jim Rice was next introduced to cheers from the many Red Sox fans in attendance.
He talked about his rise in the Red Sox organization where he played his entire career, poked a jab or two at the media with whom he had a testy relationship, and thanked the Baseball Writers Association for voting him in during his last year of eligibility.
Tomorrow: Rickey Steals the Show
A Record-Breaking Comeback of Epic Proportions: Monday night’s game against the Minnesota Twins was one for the record books. Gio Gonzales got the first 2 outs of the game and then everything fell apart for him. I won’t go into the nasty details because they turned out to be a non-issue, except for the substantial hit Gio’s ERA took. Suffice it to say that after 2.5 innings the score was 12-2 Twins, which included Jason Kubel’s 3-run blast in the 1st, Justin Morneau’s grand slam in the 2nd, Michael Cuddyer’s solo shot right after Morneau’s grand salame, and Morneau’s 3-run encore in the top of the 3rd. After the last home run, Gio was lifted for Santiago Casilla. It looked pretty bleak at that point.
But the stars were aligned in the A’s corner for the rest of the game.
They scored 3 runs in the bottom of the third (Daric Barton’s homer plated 2 of them), 2 runs in the 4th (on Matt Holliday’s first dinger) and
7 runs in the 7th inning which included a 2 run double by Orlando Cabrera and Matt Holliday’s grand slam to tie the game at 13-13, followed by a solo
shot from Jack Cust to put the A’s ahead for good. A questionable play at the plate that was called the A’s way ended the game in
the bottom of the ninth.
To put it in perspective, there were 27 runs scored, 39 hits, 8 homers, 9 doubles, and 2 errors in the game. The A’s stroked 22 hits and had NO strikeouts! The game lasted 3 hours and 32 minutes, and the paid attendance was 10,283, a large portion of whom had left before the A’s slugfest in the 7th ining. More than one record was set in this amazing game but the best was that the ten-run deficit in the 3rd was the largest one (by 2 runs) the Oakland A’s had ever recovered from to win a ballgame.
Matt Holliday summed it up best. “We were down by 10 runs. Hey, we had nothing to lose. The guys just relaxed and had fun and didn’t quit. They kept pecking away at it and hit what was thrown to them, mostly to the opposite field.” Maybe this was a good lesson for the hitters: when they don’t press too hard and don’t try to do too much, good things happen.
When Matt Holliday hit the grand slam to tie it, Bob Geren was positively animated: he smiled weakly and faked a small fist pump. After the game when interviewed in his office, the smile was gone and he was very matter of fact and droll. Come on, guy, show some emotion. It helps pump up the team. Jeez, you’d think someone died! My husband may be on to somthing: he thinks Geren’s a robot!
Road Trip: This will probably be my last post for over a week. The A’s and I are going on the road–together! Sports Travel and Tours has put together a wonderful Hall Of Fame Induction trip. We fly to New York and go to the A’s-Yankees game Friday night in the new Yankee Stadium. The next day we motor up to Cooperstown for two days, culminating in the Induction of Rickey Henderson into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
On Monday, our bus takes us on to Boston where we watch the A’s play the Red Sox in Fenway Park that night. The next day we drive back to New York where we go to the new Citi Field to see the Mets play the Colorado Rockies. The following day we come home. Sounds pretty fabulous to me. I am really jazzed about going.
So this is all you’ll hear from me most likely until late next week, when I will report on the trip and the A’s once again. Go A’s!!!
Bay Area Teams Swept: The A’s and their counterparts across the Bay were unceremoniously swept over the weekend. I had hoped for a win yesterday for A’s 21-year-old rookieTrevor Cahill against Eric Bedard, especially after the very expensive Seattle hurler had such a mediocre season last year, but it was not to be. Cahill pitched a terrific game through 6+ innings, only giving up a run, but it was one run too many. Bedard was lights out, living up to his pre-Seattle reputation.
Red Sox in Town: Tonight the A’s begin a series at home with the Red Sox and as usual the Coliseum will look more red than green and gold. Red Sox fans–at least those who come to A’s games–are some of the most rude and obnoxious fans I’ve ever encountered. Unfortunately, A’s fans get sucked in and give as good as they get. It doesn’t make for a pleasant evening at the ballpark and I avoid these games like the plague.
A Leftover Post from Spring Training: I wrote this on the plane coming home from Spring Training at the end of March. It got sidelined once the season started and in all the sadness over the death of Nick Adenhart. Since there is nothing much to celebrate after a weekend of losses, I have decided to put it in here–a positive note for a change.
On March 29th before the Colorado Rockies game (the subject of my “Speed Guns, Testosterone and a Snafu” post below) I drove out to the Minor League Camp at Phoenix’ Papago Park. I parked the car under a Smoke tree, and walked in towards the playing fields. Here the players in the A’s organization who are invited to Spring Training–from Single A through Triple A–work out in the mornings and play intra-squad games after lunch. It was a slightly overcast morning in the seventies with a light breeze to keep things very comfortable.
I was astounded that there were exactly 5 people in the whole complex who were not players, coaches or groundskeepers. A guy sat in a beach chair munching on chips and watching the Triple A field from about 30 feet away. Across the way, an older couple and a woman on a cell phone sat on the metal bleachers at the Double A field. The fifth was yours truly.
I had come on a mission: to talk to “my guys,” three A’s minor league pitchers whom I had interviewed in October of 2007, when they were playing for the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League. At that time I was doing research on the life of a professional ballplayer for my novel, “Contract Year”, which is now “finished”–is anything ever finished? I wanted to say hello and catch up with them.
The first one I found was James Simmons, a lanky right-handed pitcher with a dazzling smile, who was drafted 26th overall by the A’s in the 2007 MLB June draft, and who commanded a seven-figure signing bonus from the A’s. For the last two seasons, he’s pitched for the Double A Midland Rockhounds in the Texas League, completely bypassing all rookie and A ball levels. He’s playing at Sacramento with the Triple A River Cats this season.
I asked James how he felt about Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson (both drafted the year after Simmons) getting an opportunity to play for the A’s this year. He said, “I’m not ready yet. There are still some things I need to work on. I’m fine with it and they deserve it.” Now there’s class!
While I was talking to James, Jeff Gray, another RHP who pitched for the River Cats last season strode up with a big smile on his face and extended his hand. He’s the oldest of the three at 28, and I had hoped he might break camp with the A’s this spring. Joe Stiglich, the A’s beat writer for the Contra Costa Times and other Bay Area News Group papers, told me that the A’s are “high on him,” but he’s going back in Sacramento to start this season.
I had to go looking for the last guy, Brad Kilby, a LHP who has pitched for Sacramento the last two seasons. I found him sitting on the bench next to the water cooler, staring at the paper cup in his hand . A man of few words, he’s also back in Sacramento for another season.
I have been following the careers of these three ballplayers from Double A to Triple A, and in Jeff’s case to the A’s. Last September Jeff got a “cup of coffee” in the majors, when the A’s called him up after rosters expanded on September 1st. He threw 5 innings in relief with the A’s and I got to see him pitch two of them in person. These guys have been invaluable to me in terms of my understanding of what minor league ballplayers have to deal with: playing for peanuts, climbing up the minors, hoping to get called up, and dealing with the fact that so much of their fate is out of their hands.
I brought a copy of my book with me and gave it to James to read. The other two will read it after James is finished. James, bless his heart, agreed to write a blurb for the dust jacket when the book is published.
I must confess that my heart was aflutter standing around talking to these good-looking very fit young men who are living the dream I would have aspired to in my youth if I’d had a Y-chromosome. They are all extremely nice and enthusiastic, and I am honored to call them my friends.